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Interest Rates Capped for Military Families

VETERAN ALERT: Interest Rates Capped for Military Families

Wed, Mar 22, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Our military men and women deserve our utmost respect, but there are bad actors who take advantage of military service members and their families, especially when it comes to lending money.

Creditors and lenders are already prohibited by law from taking advantage of active duty military members, but the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is meant to provide additional safeguards while they navigate deployment, change of duty station orders or other unique circumstances military families face, especially related to buying or owning a home.

“Banks cannot charge more than 6 percent interest on mortgages for military families during service and up to one year after service ends,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “This allows families to plan ahead and prevents creditors from selling, foreclosing or seizing an active duty service member’s mortgaged property during service.”

The SCRA also provides protection requiring a judge to stay mortgage proceedings if a service member shows that military service has affected his or her ability to comply with mortgage obligations.

Additionally, the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement requires five major mortgage servicers – Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – to notify service members who are 45 days delinquent on mortgage payments that they are entitled to SCRA protections and are eligible for financial counseling from Military OneSource and Armed Forces Legal Assistance.

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help service members understand and use loan protections provided under the SCRA:

  • Inform the mortgage company that you are seeking protection under SCRA.
  • Provide the lender with written notice of military service.
  • Send the lender a copy of the orders calling the service member to active duty.
  • Research time constraints that could impact eligibility for some protections.
  • Consult the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Office with questions regarding qualifications for SCRA.

In 2015, Rutledge launched the first-ever Military and Veterans Initiative at the Attorney General’s office to assist active duty military service members, reservists, veterans and their families with consumer related issues, Veterans Treatment Courts and many other collaborative efforts.

Arkansas military service members, veterans and families can file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Sunshine Week Sheds Light on FOIA

Sunshine Week Sheds Light on FOIA

Wed, Mar 15, 2017

An open and transparent government is imperative for both the press and the public to hold government officials accountable for their actions. The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted by the General Assembly in 1967 and is considered one of the strongest and most comprehensive open-records and open-meetings laws in the United States.

National Sunshine Week, March 12-18, bringing sunshine laws and the FOIA to the forefront to educate citizens about their rights when it comes to government accountability.

“Arkansas’s FOIA holds government officials accountable at all levels, including state and local leaders,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The Attorney General’s office is committed to educating all Arkansans about their rights to an open and public government through the FOIA.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips regarding Arkansas’s FOIA:

  • The law gives Arkansans broad access to public records and public meetings, with limited exceptions.
  • When a governing body meets to conduct the people’s business, the meeting is a public meeting and is subject to the open-meetings provisions of the FOIA.
  • A public record is defined as any writing, sound recording, video or electronic or computer-based information that reflects the performance or lack of performance of official functions.
  • All records maintained by public employees within the scope of their employment are presumed to be public records, though several exemptions may shield a record (or certain information in a record) from disclosure.
  • Government entities generally have up to three working days to provide a record requested under FOIA.
  • Custodians of records may only charge for the “actual costs” of reproducing public records, plus mailing expenses.
  • Notice of public meetings must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified, and two-hour notice of special or emergency meetings must be provided to members of the news media who have requested notice of such meetings.
  • Governing bodies may only enter into closed meetings, also known as “executive sessions,” for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of an individual officer or employee. But following the executive session, the governing body must reconvene in public and formally vote on the matter discussed in the executive session.

The Attorney General’s office partners with the Arkansas Press Association and other organizations to produce and distribute the “Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook.” The Handbook’s 17th edition was published in December 2015. Free copies of the handbook are available by completing the short online form, or contacting the Attorney General’s office at community@arkansasag.gov or 501-682-2007.

The Attorney General’s office recently presented an online webcast about the Arkansas FOIA.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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2016 Top 10 Complaints

Top 10 Consumer Complaints

Wed, Mar 8, 2017

Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2016LITTLE ROCK – In conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, March 5-11, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced the top 10 most common complaints the Attorney General’s office received in 2016.

National Consumer Protection Week is a partnership with attorneys general from across the country, along with many national organizations, including the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and AARP, to encourage consumers to understand their rights and make educated consumer decisions.

“The Consumer Protection Division includes attorneys, investigators and phone counselors working each and every day to fight for Arkansans,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “They mediate all types of complaints, including those filed in response to deceptive business practices, and regularly reach positive outcomes on behalf of Arkansas consumers. I am proud my staff recovered more than $2 million through settlements and mediation last year.”

The 10 most common compliant categories from 2016 were:

  • Automobile sales, service, financing and repair
  • Sales of goods and services
  • top 10 word cloudHealth care
  • Landlord/tenant
  • Home repair, construction and maintenance
  • Satellite, cable and internet service providers
  • Wireless and landline telephone services
  • Credit service, credit repair and other financial services
  • Utilities
  • Travel and timeshares

For the fifth consecutive year, automobile-related transactions have been the most common type of complaint reports to the Attorney General’s office. Purchasing a vehicle can be one of the most significant purchases a consumer makes, and because the process is complicated, a consumer may not even be aware that a problem exists. These types of complaints often involve consumers reporting financing errors; high-pressure tactics to buy add-on services at the time of purchase, such as gap insurance, service contracts or life or extended warranties; and sales misrepresentations.

The most common scam reported to the Attorney General’s office in 2016 was the IRS imposter scam. Scam artists are still posing as the IRS demanding payment immediately and threatening arrest if payment is not received. Arkansans need to remember that the IRS will never call and demand payment, require taxes be paid in a certain way, ask for credit or debit card numbers or threaten to bring police or other agencies to make an arrest for unpaid taxes.

Attorney General Rutledge’s office resolved 9,000 formal consumer complaints in 2016. File a complaint online at ArkansasAG.gov.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Hackers taking Hostages in Cyberspace

CONSUMER ALERT: Hackers are taking Hostages in Cyberspace

Wed, Mar 1, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – Hackers are taking hostages in cyberspace and using new methods to extort money from individuals and businesses. Using methods called “ransomware,” they can capture and control access to prized photos, like wedding albums or pictures of children or grandchildren, or important documents, like taxes or legal documents. Using a virus, computer files are remotely encrypted and users can no longer view them, unless you pay the hackers for the “key” to unlock the files. Often these criminals demand payment in Bitcoin or some other untraceable form of payment. The Arkansas Attorney General’s office has been contacted about this growing form of malicious malware that can get installed on a computer or mobile phone without the user even knowing, until they try to access a file that has been locked.

The FBI reports ransomware attacks hit an all-time high in 2016. This virus is masked as an attachment or hyperlink via email or social media messengers and could even come from people you may know. Once a consumer clicks on the attachment or hyperlink, the computer is infected and can spread the malware.

“Hackers are taking control of computers and tools from cyberspace,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “These are sophisticated criminals from around the world, but there are simple steps individuals and businesses can take to stay protected from these hackers.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following steps consumers can take to prevent a ransomware computer attack.

  • Back up important files regularly.
  • Avoid opening attachments that look suspicious.
  • Do not open hyperlinks if you do not recognize the address or it looks suspicious.
  • Keep operating systems, antiviruses, browsers and other software up to date.
  • Make sure unused wireless connections are turned off.
  • If your computer or phone is acting suspicious, disconnect from the internet until it has been diagnosed.

Many anti-virus and computer systems, along with computer technicians, can remove the virus if a computer does get infected. Ransomware attacks should also be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliant Center.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Refund Anticipation Loans and Checks Can Cost Consumers

Refund Anticipation Loans and Checks Can Cost Consumers

Wed, Feb 22, 2017

Some car salesman use high pressure tactics to slither their way into a consumer’s wallet. Car dealerships and other large-item retailers are trying to encourage Arkansans to let their salesmen do the consumer’s taxes. The salesmen can “predict” the tax refund amount and encourage the consumer to enter into a loan with the business to purchase a large ticket item. This is also called a Refund Anticipation Loan and may end up costing the consumer more than filing his or her own return.

“Refund Anticipation Loans can be risky and costly for consumers,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “The actual refund may only cover a portion of the loan, leaving the consumer on the hook for the rest of the money and often at an inflated interest rate.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following considerations before agreeing to have taxes prepared as part of a Refund Anticipation Loan:

  • Free or low-cost options such as the online Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Free File program or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance may be options.
  • Electronically filed returns can be deposited in bank accounts in as few as eight days.
  • The IRS can also provide refunds by check or prepaid debit card.
  • Always get a written list of fees before entering into any agreement or requesting tax preparation assistance.

Refund Anticipation Checks are similar to Refund Anticipation Loans and can be attractive to some consumers because businesses often waive tax preparation fees, but many Arkansans can obtain free tax preparation services. The IRS provides a Free File program online that is a federal tax preparation and electronic filing program for approximately 70 percent of taxpayers who earn less than $64,000. Eligible consumers can go to IRS.gov and choose from multiple private companies that will file federal returns at no charge.

Some Arkansans may also be eligible to receive free help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Meanwhile, seniors can contact AARP to learn more about the tax preparation services they provide.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Lost Military Records Can Be Replaced

VETERAN ALERT: Lost Military Records Can Be Replaced

Wed, Feb 15, 2017

Military medical or personnel records can get lost or misplaced, which can be frustrating if a service member has passed away and the family would like the deceased person’s records for posterity.

These records may be obtained from the National Personnel Records Center by the next of kin, normally at no cost. Next of kin is considered the surviving spouse who has not remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister or brother. Proof of death of the veteran must be provided.

“There are a number of reasons that a veteran or family member may want military separation documents, service personnel records or medical records,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These records are used for applying for veteran benefits, retirement preparation, funeral or even researching family military history.”

To release records, the National Archives requires the following information about the veteran:

  • Complete name used while in service
  • Service number
  • Social Security number
  • Branch of service
  • Dates of service
  • Date and place of birth

All requests must be signed and dated by the veteran or next of kin. If the veteran is deceased, proof of death, such as a copy of the death certificate, a letter from the funeral home or a published obituary when requesting documents.

Service information can be requested from eVetRecs online or by filling out an SF180 form and following the instructions to mail or fax the form. Urgent records requests can be made by adding the nature of the urgency and deadline in the comments section of eVetRecs or in the purpose section of the SF180 form.

The government provides basic military personnel and medical records information at no charge if the veteran was discharged after 1955. If the discharge occurred prior to 1955, the records have been archived and could be subject to a fee. If the request involves a service fee, the requester will be notified as soon as possible.

Arkansas military service members, veterans and families can file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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